AgJobs bill passes Judiciary Committee March 27

AgJobs legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27. This bill significantly revises the government’s H-2A guest worker program for farm workers. Key is an earned legal immigration status provision which the Fund estimates will cover several hundred thousand undocumented farm workers. The bill creates a “blue card” status which can lead to a green card.
According to a Farmworker Justice Fund press release,
AgJOBS contains two basic programs. First, the earned legalization program would allow many unauthorized immigrant farmworkers to earn legal immigration status by demonstrating their recent agricultural work experience in the U.S. and by continuing to work in agriculture for three to five years. Second, it would revise the H-2A agricultural guest worker program to streamline the process for employers while retaining major protections for workers.
All of the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Senator Edward Kennedy, supported AgJOBS. The Committee Republicans who voted for AgJOBS were Senators DeWine, Brownback, and Specter. Senators Hatch and Graham “passed,” choosing not to vote on the AgJOBS amendment. The Republican opponents were Coburn, Grassley, Kyl, Sessions, and Cornyn.
Provisions include
* To enter the earned legalization program, farmworkers will have to show that they performed at least 150 days of agricultural work in the U.S. during the 24-month period ending December 31, 2005. (This is not a per-year requirement; it is a total of 150 days.)
* Once the person shows eligibility, he or she gets a “blue card” to demonstrate temporary resident status. Previously, there was no special card or color.
* Once the farmworker obtains a blue card, the farmworker’s spouse and minor children obtain temporary resident status and the spouse gets work authorization. These family members may also then travel across the U.S. border.
* To earn a green card, the farmworkers must perform agricultural work for at least 100 work days per year for five years, or perform 150 days per year for three years. Participants may work outside agriculture but only if they continue to meet the annual agricultural work requirement.
* Disqualification will occur due to conviction of a felony or three misdemeanors or a single crime that involves bodily injury or injury to property in excess of $500.
* In addition to an application fee, farmworkers will have to pay a fine of $100 upon obtaining a blue card.
* To obtain a green card, farmworkers must pay a fine of $400 and must be current on their income taxes.
* The earned legalization program has a cap of 1.5 million.
* The H-2A temporary foreign worker program will allow employers in the dairy industry to hire workers even if they are year-round workers.

The Farmworker Justice Fund

This organization, now in its 25th year, promotes improvement in working and living conditions of farmworkers, especially immigrant migrants. It has backed AgJobs legislation, the topic of a future posting.
It’s “Pro-Farmworker Agenda” focuses on
1. Farm Labor Housing and Housing Development Capacity: Farmworkers’ low wages, reluctance to allow farmworker housing in some communities, failure to maintain existing housing, inadequate government funding and other causes have led to a crisis-level shortage of housing and inadequate sanitation.
2. Workers’ Compensation: Farmworkers continue to be discriminated against in many state regarding access to workers’ compensation for work-related injury and illness.
3. “Right to know” about toxic occupational chemicals. Farmworkers have been denied coverage under the hazard communication program of the Occupational Safety and Health Act ….We suggest a federal pilot program in several states to examine whether granting farmworkers the right to know about occupational chemicals reduces the incidence and severity of work-related illness and injury.
4. Farmers’ transition away from toxic pesticides to safer pest control methods would substantially benefit farmworkers by reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals at work.
5. Freedom of Association: Farmworkers employed in an industry substantially supported by government deserve the right to join and organize labor unions free from retaliation, but they presently lack that right. The federal National Labor Relations Act grants that right to other workers but specifically excludes farmworkers. We suggest amending the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the principal federal employment law regarding farmworkers, to grant workers the right to organize, join and participate in labor unions without being discharged or discriminated against in any way by their employers or labor contractors.
6. Unemployment compensation benefits: Business difficulties and the nature of seasonal agriculture prevent many farmworkers from working year-round. Most workers in seasonal industries, such as construction and tourism, can rely on unemployment compensation if they cannot find other jobs during the off-season. a minimum, a business receiving government support should provide unemployment insurance.
7. Transportation to and from work: Many farmworkers do not own their own motor vehicles and live or work in rural areas where there is not public transportation. In many locations, a dangerous business practice has developed. Contractors take money from farmworkers and deliver them to the work site, often in dangerous vehicles, many of which are minivans that lack seats and seat belts.
8. Overtime Pay: Federal law excludes agricultural workers from the payment of time-and-one-half for work in excess of forty hours per week. In California, state law grants overtime to farmworkers after ten hours of work in a day and California remains a highly productive, profitable agricultural state.
9. A Living Wage: The federal minimum wage is utterly inadequate as a minimum wage rate, especially for seasonal employees like farmworkers, whose annual earnings average only about $7,500. A government-supported business should be expected to provide decent work, which includes compliance with all labor laws and a living wage.

David Brook’s illuminating column about immigrants

New York Times columnist David Brooks penned what may turn out to the most interesting pro-immigration argument by a moderate conservative. He says that he supports Hispanic immigration for four reasons.
“My first argument is that the exclusionists are wrong when they say the current wave of immigration is tearing our social fabric…My second argument is that the immigrants themselves are like a booster shot of traditional morality injected into the body politic. Immigrants work hard…My third argument is that good values lead to success, and that immigrants’ long-term contributions more than compensate for the short-term strains they cause…My fourth argument is that government should be at least as virtuous as the immigrants themselves.”
I have quoted his column in full:

Continue reading David Brook’s illuminating column about immigrants

Large Los Angeles immigration rally echoed protests about Proposition 187 in mid 1990s

On Saturday, March 25, a huge, largely Hispanic attended rally in Los Angeles protested anti-illegel immigrant proposals in Congress. Some compared the rally to Hispanic protests against a mostly Republican-backed crack-down law passed by California in 1994, which a federal court later overturned. As noted below, Prop 187 had “devastating impact” on Republican access to Hispanic votes.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times,

A crowd estimated by police at more than 500,000 boisterously marched in Los Angeles on Saturday [March 25] to protest federal legislation that would crack down on undocumented immigrants, penalize those who help them and build a security wall along the U.S.’ southern border. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa briefly addressed the rally. “We cannot criminalize people who are working, people who are contributing to our economy and contributing to the nation,” Villaraigosa said.

Spirited but peaceful marchers — ordinary immigrants alongside labor, religious and civil rights groups — stretched more than 20 blocks along Spring Street, Broadway and Main Street to City Hall, tooting kazoos, waving American flags and chanting, “Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!). Saturday’s rally…. coincides with an initiative on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, spearheaded by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, to defy a House bill that would make aiding undocumented immigrants a felony. And it signals the burgeoning political clout of Latinos, especially in California.

“There has never been this kind of mobilization in the immigrant community ever,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “They have kicked the sleeping giant. It’s the beginning of a massive immigrant civil rights struggle.”

Largely in response to the [immigration] debate in Washington, hundreds of thousands of people in recent weeks have staged marches in more than a dozen cities calling for immigration reform. In Denver, police said Saturday that more than 50,000 people gathered downtown at Civic Center Park next to the Capitol to urge the state Senate to reject a resolution supporting a ballot issue that would deny many government services to illegal immigrants in Colorado. Hundreds rallied in Reno, the Associated Press reported. On Friday, tens of thousands of people were estimated to have staged school walkouts, marches and work stoppages in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities. In addition, several cities, including Los Angeles, have passed resolutions opposing the House legislation. At least one city, Maywood, declared itself a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.

Proposition 187
Californian Hispanics may be smarting from the attempt, Repblican-led, to crack down illegal immigrants . Wikipedia recounts this 1994 legislative adventure as follows:

California Proposition 187 was a proposition introduced in California in 1994 to deny illegal immigrants social services, health care, and public education. A number of people and organizations were involved in bringing it to the voters. It was introduced by assemblyman Dick Mountjoy (Republican from Monrovia, California) as the Save Our State initiative. It passed with 59% of the vote, but was overturned by a federal court.

Proposition 187 included several additions to the law, falling into two categories.

* All law enforcement agents who suspect that a person who has been arrested is in violation of immigration laws must investigate the detainee’s immigration status, and if they find evidence of illegality they must report it to the attorney general of California, and to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Local governments are prohibited from doing anything to impair the fulfillment of this requirement. The attorney general must keep records on all such cases and make them available to any other government entity that wishes to inspect them.

* No one may receive public benefits until they have proven their legal right to reside in the country. If anyone applies for benefits and is suspected by government agents of being illegal, those agents must report in writing to the enforcement authorities. Emergency medical care is exempted as required by federal law but all other medical benefits have the same test as above. Primary and secondary education is explicitly included.

The LA Times’ story went on:

Some Republicans fear that pushing too hard against illegal immigrants could backfire nationally, as with Proposition 187. Strong Republican support of that measure helped spur record numbers of California Latinos to become U.S. citizens and register to vote. Those voters subsequently helped the Democrats regain political control in the state. “There is no doubt Proposition 187 had a devastating impact on the [California] Republican Party,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant. “Now the Republicans in Congress better beware: If they come across as too shrill, with a racist tone, all of a sudden you’re going to see Republicans in cities with a high Latino population start losing their seats.”

Latin American migrants send back $54B in year in remittances

Migrant workers from Latin America and the Caribbean sent home $53.6bn to their families last year, an increase of 17% from 2004. The remittance are sent from the U.S, Canada, and other developed countries. This is according to a Financial Times report on an upcoming study by the Inter-American Development Bank. The study “confirms Latin America’s position as the biggest market in the world for remittances. For the third consecutive year, remittances to the region exceeded the combined flows of direct foreign investment and overseas economic aid.”
The FT report does not appear to distinquish between Latin Americans who have become citizens, those who are legal immigrants, and those who are illegal immigrants.
The FT goes on to report that

“The shift in international trade, investment and communications has required the world’s political and economic system to adapt new rules and mechanisms to meet modern realities,” said Donald Terry, head of the bank’s multilateral investment fund. “The same needs to be done for the migrant labourers who have become such an integral part of the world’s labour markets.”

An estimated 25m-27m Latin Americans are living and working abroad, 22m of them in the developed markets of North America, Europe and Japan. Migrant workers from the region now made up more than 20% of the labour force in Madrid, Spain’s capital. In the US, Latin American and Caribbean workers constitute an average of 12%of the labour force. Family by family, worker by worker, migrants are redrawing the map of global labour markets

Improvements in techniques used to monitor the flows of remittances in part accounted for the sharp rise last year. Many migrants continue to use informal channels, and the total could be more than $59bn.

Countries nearest the US have seen the biggest flows, with Mexico drawing some $20bn of foreign exchange earnings from remittances. The five countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic received $11bn.

Brazil got $6bn, Colombia $4bn and the four other Andean economies a total of $9bn. The bank is continuing its efforts to force down transmission costs of remittances, typically despatched in sums of between $100 and $300. Commission costs now amount to about 5% of the total, less than half the levels of five years ago.

The great demographic shift in the American workforce

In the past ten years, the American workforce has been growing in total largely on the strength of increases in foreign born labor. Among the ranks of the employed, foreign-born worker growth’s role has been even more pronounced.
An article in the May 2002 issue of the Monthly Labor Review has data to show the impact of foreign-born labor. The authors reported that for the year 2000, three quarters of the growth in the workforce was from foreign labor. In that year, employment among non foreign-born workers actually declined by 491,000 while employment among foreign-born workers rose by 897,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more recently that in 2004 the total number of foriegn-born workforce was about 21.4 million, or 14.5.% of thr total labor force. Slightly under half of the workforce growth between 2002 and 2004 was foreign-born.
Foreign born labor has entered employment rolls in an hour glass fashion: a small absolute number in the highly trained professions, a much larger number and much larger proportional impact in the bottom quarter of jobs as defined by educational requirements.
Between 1996 and 2000, foreign-born labor accounted for 49% of the increase in the workforce. (As the 2000 data above show, this percentage increased in 2000 alone.) For workforce members without a high school diploma, the total number in America declined by 393,000 but the total number of foreign-born workers with less than a high school diploma went up by 654,000. Thus, foreign-born workers were rapidly filling the ranks of the low educated that were being emptied by non-foreign born.
For the occupational category of “operators, fabricators and laborer,” total workforce growth in 1996-2000 was 105,000. However the workforce growth among foreign born was 664,000, indicating that non-foreign born ranks declined while foreign born workers flooded in.

Study asserts H-1B visa program undercuts American computer programmers

The Center for Immigration Studies just released a critique of the H-IB visa program. The core message of the study is that employers use the visa program to hire professional workers at wages well below the actually prevailing wages of comparable workers – despite a statutory prohibition. I have entered below the executive summary of “The Bottom of the Pay Scale: Wages for H-1B Computer Programmers” by John Miano and, following that, a useful primer of the program from his study.
H-1B visas by occupation are computer 28%, education 14%, administrative 13%, engineering 12%, health 9%, managers 8%, all others 18%. Visas by country of origin are mainland India 36%, China 9%, Canada 5%. all others 50%.
Executive Summary
The temporary visa program known as H-1B enables U.S. employers to hire professional-level foreign workers for a period of up to six years. Employers must pay H-1B workers either the same rate as other employees with similar skills and qualifications or the “prevailing wage” for that occupation and location, whichever is higher….The analysis demonstrates that…actual pay rates reported by employers of H-1B workers were significantly lower than those of American workers. ….[R]ather than helping employers meet labor shortages or bring in workers with needed skills, as is often claimed by program users, the H-1B program is instead more often used by employers to import cheaper labor.
Key Findings
On average, applications for H-1B workers in computer occupations were for wages $13,000 less than Americans in the same occupation and state.
Wages on approved Labor Condition Applications (LCAs) for 85% of H-1B workers were for less than the median U.S. wage in the same occupations and state.
Applications for 47% of H-1B computer programming workers were for wages below even the prevailing wage claimed by their employers.
Employers can easily manipulate their need to show that the H-1B worker will be paid a prevailing wage. The Department of Labor is hamstrung in enforcing more rigor into this part of the application process.
Employers making applications for more than 100 H-1B workers had wages averaging $9,000 less than employers of one to 10 H-1B workers.
The report goes on to say that many U.S. employers use “bodyshops” (labor service providers) for H-1B workers, thereby making it easier for the employer to obscure how it may be firing American workers in order to hire H-!B workers. And the report says that any investigation of H-1B abuses must be personally approved by the Secretary of Labor.
A primer of H-1B visa program

Continue reading Study asserts H-1B visa program undercuts American computer programmers

Senate Committee approves McCain bill on March 27

The Washington Post reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 to 6 in favor of the McCain bill, which combines a guest worker program, citizenship options, and immigration enforcement. The voting took place under a strict deadline imposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and as demonstrations erupted across the country against tough enforcement of immigration laws. The 12 vote majority included 4 Republicans (Specter, Graham, Brownback and DeWine and all 8 Democrats.
The Post described the amended legislation as follows:

The panel’s bill would allow the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in this country to apply for a work visa after paying back taxes and a penalty. The first three-year visa could be renewed for three more years. After four years, visa holders could apply for green cards and begin moving toward citizenship. An additional 400,000 such visas would be offered each year to workers seeking to enter the country.

Senators also accepted a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would offer 1.5 million illegal farmworkers a “blue card” visa that would legalize their status. The committee also accepted a provision by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) that would shield humanitarian organizations from prosecution for providing more than simple emergency aid to illegal immigrants, rejecting an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to require humanitarian groups providing food, medical aid and advice to illegal immigrants to register with the Department of Homeland Security.

The Post described popular demonstrations:

At least 14,000 students stormed out of schools in Southern California and elsewhere yesterday, waving flags and chanting to protest congressional actions. About 100 demonstrators, including members of the clergy, appeared at the Capitol yesterday in handcuffs to object to provisions in the House bill that would make illegal immigrants into felons and criminalize humanitarian groups that feed and house them. More than a half-million marchers protested in Los Angeles on Saturday, following protests in Phoenix, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

ICE no longer to impersonate OSHA personnel

Hazards Magazine
has reports that Immigration Customs and Enforcement (within Homeland Security) has reversed its controversial policy. Per Hazards:

On February 16, AIHA [American Industrial Hygiene Association] sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security opposing word that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau would continue posing as OSHA personnel to conduct immigrant workforce enforcement. AIHA’s letter went on to say that while we understood the need for illegal immigrant enforcement, using OSHA personnel to conduct “sting” operations was not the way to go, and would undoubtedly result in making it much more difficult to improve the health and safety of immigrant workers.

Last week, AIHA received a letter (dated March 17) from the Director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Marcy Forman. Ms Forman stated “Effective immediately, the use of ruses involving health and safety programs administered by a private entity or a federal, state, or local government agency (such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for the purpose of immigration worksite enforcement, will be discontinued by ICE”.

This from a press release issued by Aaron K Trippler, Director Government Affairs, American Industrial Hygiene Association, Fairfax VA.

Paul Krugman on immigration reform

The New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugram, expresses today deep his caution on immigration reform and a guest worker program. In “North of the Border,” he writes that a guest worker program will likely have the effect of creating a formal sub-class of non-voting workers. Repeating some content some of my prior postings, Krugman writes:

First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration.

Krugman ends with these comments about Bush’s guest worker plan:

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush’s plan for a “guest worker” program is clearly designed by and for corporate interests, who’d love to have a low-wage work force that couldn’t vote. Not only is it deeply un-American; it does nothing to reduce the adverse effect of immigration on wages. And because guest workers would face the prospect of deportation after a few years, they would have no incentive to become integrated into our society.

What about a guest-worker program that includes a clearer route to citizenship? I’d still be careful. Whatever the bill’s intentions, it could all too easily end up having the same effect as the Bush plan in practice — that is, it could create a permanent underclass of disenfranchised workers.

We need to do something about immigration, and soon. But I’d rather see Congress fail to agree on anything this year than have it rush into ill-considered legislation that betrays our moral and democratic principles.